Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Balance Tip That Is Slightly More Than "Lean Forward" (plus a Boot Adjustment Trick)

Chances are that if you have spent five minutes on a ski slope before, you have heard the amazingly overused and almost meaningless word in the skiing dictionary - the most given piece of unsought advice that exists in space and time - the ... oh, let's just cut to the chase ... LEAN FORWARD.

Lean forward. A simple term that seems to be your skiing buddy's answer for everything. It has come down a long line of useless friends teaching friends and is deeply rooted in everyone's skiing history.

The thing is...what does it mean? I will bet you a million and one dollars that you really weren't sure what to do when you were first told to lean forward, and I will bet you a million and two dollars that the person you are trying to teach doesn't know what this means either. Here's why...

Lean forward is an extremely ambiguous phrase. It seems straightforward to an experienced skier, but to someone new to this heavenly sport, lean forward could mean several different things. Should I tilt my head forward? Should I reach my hands forward? These skis are so hard to move on. Should I bend my shoulders forward? My hips? Did I mention it is hard to move while sliding on these stupid skis? And I wish that Alec the smart lass would stop shouting lean forward at me.

I think you get the point.

So instead of shouting the same, useless phrase over and over again, try using some of these more specific and helpful tips the next time you decide to give some unsought advice.

  • Slide your feet underneath your hips or Bring your body over top of your feet - These pieces of advice reinforce vertical alignment of the body over the hips over the feet. They both are two ways to think of accomplishing the same thing. Often, adjusting the position of your feet (and therefore skis) is easier to focus on than moving your upper body. This also provides proper ankle flexion.

  • Stand up straighter - Many people new to skiing believe that skiing should look like the racing pros on TV. This is almost always not the case, as we rarely get to the speeds where those kinds of extreme bending movements are needed to produce such high magnitude forces. When a skier bends over too much, the hips revert back and bring the weight of the skier into the "backseat," or too far behind the ideal central stance. Our weight should be over the center of our feet.

  • Press the front of your shins against the front of your boots - Something that even many advanced skiers forget to remember is that our shins should be in contact with the fronts of our boots at all times. Often, when a skier falls back in his or her stance, he or she can easily fix the problem by putting the shins back in contact with the tongues of the boots. This flexes the knees and the ankles, ensuring a better balanced stance.

Equipment note: Here is a simple check to perform to make sure that your boots are better-fitted, giving you more balance while you ski. Put on and buckle your boots. When you stand up straight or flex your knees, your boots should be in contact with your legs all the way around the front and back of the legs. If there is wiggle room, tighten up your boots so that there is no more extra space.

Bob Shostek, PSIA Examiner and former PSIA-E President, recommends the following: Velcro your power strap, or booster strap, underneath the outer shell of the boot (the shell contains the buckles). The straps should be velcro-ed in between the soft part and shell part of the boot. Then, buckle your boot shell over top of the already connected power straps. This will give you a tighter "seal" around your leg by the boot, and you will notice more control in your skiing.
The picture on the left shows the power straps over top of the buckled shell.  The picture on the right shows the power straps underneath the outer boot shell, which gives a tighter fit of the boot around your leg, allowing for more precise and fine-tuned movements in your skiing.
Additionally, you can place wedged pieces of a soft but sturdy material between your leg and the boot to eliminate some of the extra space. When there is less or no space between your leg and the boot, your own movements transfer easier, quicker, smoother, and with less effort.
The picture on the left shows too much room in the boot on the forward side, which often translates into an unbalanced skier that is in the 'back seat.' The picture on the left shows too much room in the back side of the boot, meaning that the skier will be too far forward to have an effective, balanced stance.
When there is room for error, it takes large, gross movements to make a small difference in your skiing. This trick will result in more fine-tuned movements that are able to allow you to move while skiing without large, drastic, and visible movements of the lower leg.

So after you perform your boot test and adjust your power straps, head up the chairlift, and push your friends down the newly introduced mountain, give more specific advice than lean forward. Give them advice that they will actually understand, comprehend, and execute. And that's how memories are made.


  1. Good ideas. Here are a couple of thoughts for you. What does it mean to be over your feet, when you are standing on an inclined surface? It depends on the orientation of your skis to the gradient of the hill. If I think of a line from my hips through my head and I try to keep this perpendicular to the gradient of the hill, it is easier to stay with my feet.
    Pressuring the front of the boot. There is a difference between maintaining contact and putting pressure against the tongue of the boot. Even good skiers that try to maintain constant force against the front of the boot have difficulty balancing, especially in variable snow and terrain conditions. This doesn't allow for movement of the feet under the center of mass, which you describe.

  2. I find that you get better success with pressing the shin to the cuff of the boot, by making it an activity the students can explore. If you start on less challenging terrain, the student can focus on the action. Say "press the shin to cuff at an angle". You can have them target the shin to to right of center or left of center to start the turn! Don't just push on the boot but tell them how. The next step they can do long turns by pressing "almost" center of the cuff and the student can learn to achieve the turn with little effort, and probably better posture. You can be certain the student can learn how to stand taller with more accuracy. Then you can bring the student back to shorter radius turn while they still feel contact with the boot cuff, etc.